Monthly Letter – November 2017

Dear Friends

We hosted a great evening here at the end of September: it was called simply ‘Powerpoint’.

We’re not talking sockets in the skirting boards: nor the presentation programme we’ve been using for our graphics for some 30 years. ‘Powerpoint’ is a significant Christian event (some would say an experience), run under the auspices of Scripture Union, which has been on the go in the central belt for close on two decades.

And it’s moving north! Over the last couple of years the event, which was largely confined to the central belt cities, has expanded north and been planted here in Aberdeen: and because the initial venue had proved too small the ‘Powerpoint’ team had checked us out and asked if we’d be willing to provide for them the venue they required.

It’s an event which draws in literally hundreds of school-age, teenage youngsters. So we had over 300 youngsters – from all across the city and from far outlying districts too – pouring in to our building here on a Saturday night.

And, of course, pouring out of the building, too, at 10 o’clock on a busy Saturday night. An impressive, and slightly disorienting sight for the regular throngs who crowd this major street in Aberdeen each Saturday night – and who, by 10 o’clock on a Saturday night, are already not a little ‘disoriented’ by the quantities of alcohol consumed.

To see such crowds coming out of a church at any time is for many a major surprise: the church, they’ve assumed, is dead, or at least in the throes of dying. So such a tide of people flowing out of the building on any day of the week was itself no small shock to the system.

And young people, too! Goodness! I mean, that’s not how it’s meant to be is it? Aren’t the youth of today supposed to have no interest in the Christian church, no time for such religious stuff? Haven’t we managed (in our thoroughly modern and with-it and secular state) – haven’t we managed to educate all such notions of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ right out of these youths? And here they are coming out of a church on a Saturday night in their droves. Hundreds of them. Like a river in spate. One after another, group after group.

And bouncing! Their eyes bright with eager delight. Chatting and laughing and singing and dancing, as if they were almost on fire on the back of whatever it is they’ve been doing in there.

For the crowds on the street seeing this torrent of teenagers, just so patently full of excitement and joy as they exit this building of worship … well, it must have been somewhat akin to the total disorientation there was on the day that the church was born. Except, unlike the day of Pentecost, the crowds on the street were left asking themselves, not ‘Are these folk drunk?’ but ‘Have I had a couple too many? Am I seeing what I think I am seeing?’

This is ‘next generation’ stuff.

Reaching and teaching the next generation and getting the message across: engaging their minds and their hearts with the grace of the risen Lord Jesus, and seeing these youngsters delighting in Him and eager to offer their praise.

This is an Acts chapter 3 phenomenon. Except this was not just a lame and middle-aged man, but a whole large crowd of adolescent youth, coming into the place of worship and “walking and jumping and praising God.”

The place was heaving. It was standing room only; and that from the outset, because this is not a ‘spectator-sport’ type of thing, but an up-on-your-feet and a hands-in-the-air and an everyone-here-is-involved sort of night, where you don’t get the chance to be sitting it out since there aren’t any seats to be found.

Welcome to the worship of the living God! There’s music simply thumping out, reflecting the pulse of a people encountering God. There’s a message as well (just as there was in the Acts 3 counterpart to this); clear, punchy, and direct, it’s a message which is pointing them all to the Lord Jesus Christ, and stressing both His splendor and His summons.

‘Powerpoint’ is an event. It doesn’t happen every week: it maybe only happens just three times a year. It takes a lot of organizing sweat on the part of those who undertake to put the whole thing on: and when it does take place, it gathers in these crowds, which number hundreds, of the youth of both the city and the shire.

And as such it may well be that the evening here was more than just an event. It’s also perhaps a ‘parable’ as well; an event with a lesson we’re all of us needing to learn.

Because this, as I say, is ‘next generation’ stuff (and the Scriptures are strong on this next generation perspective – read Psalms 71.18 and 78.4-6 to see if it is not so). Our call under God is to pass on the message of grace to succeeding generations in our land (and of course beyond!) and fire the hearts of the youth of our day with the same sort of passion the Spirit of God has long kindled in our own.

For it isn’t just informing folk that Jesus’ ringing mandate is about, it’s enthusing them as well: setting their hearts all on fire for the Lord, and, alongside their knowledge of all that He is and has done, ensuring they’re jumping for joy as they follow our Jesus themselves!

Maybe there’s work to be done in ourselves, first of all, if there isn’t that passion in us! Because unless there is that passion in ourselves, hearts enflamed with delight in the Lord and bursting to share Him with others – unless there is that passion in ourselves there’ll never be the requisite compassion for the lost, the willingness to do just what it takes to fire succeeding generations with that surging faith in Christ.

That ‘Powerpoint’ night is a graphic illustration of that calling which we have. Here were 300 youngsters, hundreds and hundreds of next generation, local high-school pupils, crowding in to meet with the Lord, to hear from the Lord, to bring to the Lord their worship.

Doubtless, if you wanted, you could criticize the thing. But that’s beside the point. What would you give to see hundreds of vibrant young Christians enjoying the presence of God, delighting in Jesus their Lord, and all fired up and eager to serve in the cause of the kingdom? We’d give a lot, would we not? We’d be ready to make all the necessary shifts to be seeing these young people reached and enthused for the Lord.

And, of course, there were some things which required to be shifted to ensure there was this sea of eager, teenage followers of Christ converging on the church and bringing, too, their friends.

We needed to shift almost every bit of furniture downstairs, for one thing. The place required to be cleared. Standing room only, remember. No seats. This is an Acts 3 occasion from the start – young men and women coming in off the street, and they’re walking and jumping and praising God: and they need the space to do so!

And space for all the instruments, too, and the lighting as well, which is part of how the majesty and glory of the living God is honoured and reflected in this ‘Powerpoint’ event.

That’s a lot of chairs to be shifted and stacked and stored away in the hall. And then all shifted back when the evening was over; and set out in their rows once again, so that no one would guess, when we gathered for worship next day, that there’d been this other ‘secret life of Gilc’ the night before.

And we needed to shift the day of our prayer meeting too. When God’s people are gathered together for prayer there’s no doubt that that’s a real power-point too. But you can’t have the two both together: the throbbing teenage ‘Powerpoint’ event both crowded out and would have totally drowned out, too, the powerpoint of corporate prayer. So we shifted the latter, made room for the former, and prayed that the Lord would indeed come in power on the Saturday evening ‘Powerpoint’.

There’s a certain obvious symbolism in what went on: and the challenge is quite clear. How much are we prepared to shift, in order to ensure that our perspective has the whole ‘next generation’ on our hearts?

It’s the issue which the early church soon faced, is it not, when, after the initial gospel preaching in the city of Jerusalem, they then were forced to face the daunting challenge of a largely Gentile mission. What would this ‘next generation’ model of their gospel work entail? Would they be prepared to ‘shift the furniture’? To do things rather differently. To recognize the promptings of the Lord – the Lord who has the nations, and succeeding generations, in His view – and to launch with Him the ‘next generation’ model of His church. To open wide the doors onto their Union Street, and see such heaving crowds of Gentile people coming in, walking and jumping and praising God for all they were worth.

Would they be prepared to ‘shift the furniture’? And how much would they have to shift? That was the challenge they faced. And their answer was succinctly expressed by James – ”We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15.19).

Yes, they ‘shifted the furniture’! Great stacks of it. Which is why we Gentiles here in far-off Aberdeen have come ourselves to know the Lord and revel in the blessings of His saving grace.

And now the same sort of challenge is set before us as well: will we, too, ‘shift the furniture’?

That ‘Powerpoint’ night was a parabolic statement of intent so far as we’re concerned. Yes, we’ll gladly shift the furniture! We aim to be – we have to be – a ‘next generation’ people in the outlook and perspective which we have and in that gospel readiness to shift whatever furniture is needed, so as not to make it difficult for a rising generation as they turn to God.

Exciting days, with all sorts of challenges too!

Yours in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Jeremy Middleton